Adam Easton in Warsaw -
The plane crash in Smolensk five years ago that killed Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski and all 95 others on board briefly united the nation in grief, such was the enormity of the tragedy.
But that solidarity had vanished within weeks and the crash continues to divide the country to this day.
Law and Justice - the opposition party that suffered the most losses in the disaster, and is led by Lech Kaczynski’s identical twin, Jaroslaw - has boycotted official anniversary ceremonies for the last four years.
As Poland’s president, prime minister and families of some of the crash victims paid their respects at Warsaw’s Powazki military cemetery on Friday’s fifth anniversary of the crash, Kaczynski and his supporters were doing the same outside the Presidential Palace.
Stoking the division is the fact this terrible tragedy has always been manipulated in a political game and is now being used to shore up votes ahead of May’s presidential elections.
All official investigations so far have blamed the crash on poor preparation, and poorly trained pilots who attempted to land at the military airfield in western Russia in dense fog despite their misgivings about the weather. Each probe has ruled out sinister conspiracy theories.
An ongoing Polish military investigation has published an expanded transcript of the cockpit conversations that added weight to the belief, held by many here, that the pilots were under pressure to make the attempt in order for the presidential delegation to arrive on time for a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the murder of Polish officers by the Soviet secret police in nearby Katyn.
But Kaczynski and his colleagues have encouraged Poles to believe the crash was an assassination carried out by the Russians and Lech Kaczynski’s political foes.
“All opinions indicate there were simply explosions, so there is a high probability we had to deal with an assassination,” Kaczynski told the Radio Maryja radio station on April 9.
The station is popular with elderly Poles who live in small towns and the countryside, where Law and Justice traditionally draws strong support. A survey this week found that one in five Poles believe it was an assassination.
Securing that support is crucial now it appears that President Bronislaw Komorowski, who is supported by the governing Civic Platform, is less likely to secure a knock-out win in the first round on May 10.
Perhaps due to complacency in his camp, Mr Komorowski’s main rival, Law and Justice’s Andrzej Duda, who’s been campaigning intensively, has been catching up recently in the polls.
The choice of Duda is an attempt to attract new voters with a less aggressive and younger, more modern approach than Jaroslaw Kaczynski , who lost to Komorowski in 2010.
For Law and Justice the Smolensk crash is a way to shore up its core constituency by promoting itself as a strong patriotic party that can stand up to Russia, political analyst Andrzej Rychard says.
“They can show they are a party that does not forget history and protects law and justice. There is also a strong connection because their leader lost his twin brother,” Rychard says.
Alternatively, Civic Platform, which was in power at the time of the crash and is open to criticism that it failed to ensure the proper functioning of some state institutions in April 2010, can present itself as a rational party that does not support emotional conspiracy theories.
After five years the level of emotions has begun to subside, so reviving memories of the Smolensk disaster is unlikely to garner either side new votes next month.
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